Book Plunge: The Christian Delusion Chapter 2 Valerie Tarico

Does the science of belief undermine Christianity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As we return to our look at The Christian Delusion edited by John What’s-his-name, we look at chapter 2. In this chapter, Valerie Tarico is looking at Christian belief through the lens of cognitive science. You all remember Tarico don’t you? She’s the brilliant mind who is saying more and more scholars are questioning the existence of Jesus.

She says that in the United States, religious belief is the best indicator of political party affiliation. Believers think belief has the power to save us all. Doubters fear the opposite. I wonder if she does not see the irony here. I find it amusing that when I meet people who say they are freethinkers, they all seem to think exactly alike.

This also includes in the area of politics. Most atheists I encounter seem to have many of the exact same views on politics. There are noted exceptions. Robert Price, for example, is actually someone who publicly stated before the election in 2016 that he is on the Trump Train. Thankfully also, more and more secularists are becoming pro-life.

But to get back to Tarico, she seems to think there’s this idealization of belief. The word translated as belief so many times in the New Testament, pistis, would more mean not just mere intellectual assent but would refer to faithfulness and trust. It is a living out of what one believes.

Tarico also lists some findings from science that she wants us to note. Humans are not rational about anything let alone religion. Certainty is a feeling and can fail to show up when evidence is enormous. Our minds are set up to be religious in their thinking. Finally, the born again experience is a natural phenomenon.

It’s worth pointing out that nowhere in this does she define religion, which is my problem with David Eller’s essay in this book. When we say religious thinking, what do we mean? Are we putting the reasoning of Augustine and Aquinas in the same boat as the little boy in Sunday School? Without defining this term, one will be puzzled by Tarico’s writing.

Tarico says that for Christians belief is central. If you believe, that is what matters. Belief is important, but James warns us that the demons believe and tremble. Belief needs to show up in action. Sure, we have creeds. Creeds give a statement of the things we do believe for all time. We are to live out the ramifications of those beliefs. If we do not live what we believe, we can ask if we really believe it.

Much of what Tarico says could be interesting and I have no need to comment on it as it doesn’t affect Christian truth claims. She does say we can’t really claim to know anything with certainty. (Is she certain about that.) She then says those of us who are not religious could do with a little humility. Wonderful suggestion, but it’s hard to think you live it out when you write a chapter for a book telling a disagreeing party they have a delusion. You seem pretty certain of it.

She does talk in the same way as Eller about Christianity copying. Of course, she goes for chestnuts like the descent of Inanna, ignoring that Christianity takes place in a specific time and place with a resurrection to this life again and without all the intrigue going on in the Inanna myth. Yep. Real good on the humility there.

There’s a section on the born-again experience. This would be relevant for those of us who place a lot of emphasis on such an experience. For those of us who don’t, it doesn’t matter. One might feel great things when they give their lives to Christ. If that becomes how you know Christianity is true, that is a problem. If not, then you are good.

It’s amazing to read this whole essay and realize that when people write about the problems of how we think and such, they always seem to think they are the exception. Everyone else has fallen for this, but not I. I know what is going on. I conclude in the end that Tarico doesn’t. She might have given us grounds to examine what we believe and why, but what Christian should be opposed to that?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Internet and Organized Religion

Does the internet spell the death knell of religion? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Like many of you, I quite depend on the internet. It is a great place that I have used to find my own voice and when I was dating my now wife, since we lived so far away, we often depended on emails and instant messages to communicate. It’s also been the place where I’ve been allowed to do the most ministry by far, including my podcast and this blog.

Of course, some people think that the internet means the death of religion. These include people like Valerie Tarico. Tarico is really a funny figure that I have dealt with before. Whenever I see an article and she is listed as the author, I know I’m in for some laughs. Especially since she has even gone on record in defending Jesus mythicism.

Tarico goes on with some nonsense about Christianity wanting to keep people from outside opinion. No doubt, this is true in fundamentalist circles, but not so historically. Christians often interacted with the best literature around them. Who was it that kept those pagan writings around and copied them for us today? Why it was those darn closed-off Christians who would never read anything that challenged them or disagreed with them.

Let’s skip to the main points though on how she thinks the internet is the death of religion.

The first piece is radically cool science articles and videos. Why should this be a problem? Now again, you will of course find people of a more fundamental persuasion who are anti-science. On the other hand, I find people of the fundamentalist persuasion on the atheist side who are anti-anything but science. Both treat science way too seriously. The Christian side ignores wonderful truths of science. The atheist side ignores wonderful truths everywhere else.

Unfortunately, the idea of a warfare between science and religion has largely been based on a myth. Many of these start with the words of Andrew Dickson-White and John Draper where many of the accounts cannot be found to have any historical basis whatsoever. It’s almost as if some of it was just made up. (And of course, our modern-day atheists are happy to just believe it entirely because, hey, it argues against Christianity so it must be true.)

But what about evolution? Yeah? What about it? As a Thomist, I can hold to evolution and have zero problem. This doesn’t mean that I do however. My opinion on is it I’m not an authority on science so frankly, I don’t know and I don’t care. I in fact have problems with people in the ID camp who want to say that now because of ID, theism has a strong argument. No. Theism has always had strong arguments. The Aristotelian-Thomistic arguments do not depend for a moment on the findings of modern science. It’s why I don’t even use the first two ways of William Lane Craig.

Ironically, if anyone had a real bias in this camp, it would be the atheist since for many of them, evolution is the only game in town so that just has to be true. For me, it can go either way and my arguments are just fine and my interpretation of Genesis is just fine. I’m thankful there are cool science videos and articles online. Maybe some people will learn something.

The next point is the collection of ridiculous beliefs. Now here we have a problem since Tarico has engaged in atheistic presuppositionalism. It works like this.

My view, which is the rational one, is that miracles do not happen.

Therefore, anything outside of my worldview is ridiculous if it includes miracles.

Since your belief includes miracles then, it is ridiculous.

This would work if the first premise could be established, but it isn’t, and incredulity is not an argument. You will not at all find Tarico interacting with a scholar like Craig Keener. It’s understandable though. Fundamentalists like Tarico tend to not interact with viewpoints that disagree with them. Not only that, but it’s bizarre for someone who holds to mythicism or at least defends it to talk about other people having ridiculous beliefs, but hey. Let’s have some fun and look at these beliefs she writes about. I’m going to stick to the ones that are said to be part of evangelical Christianity.

“A race of giants once roamed the earth, the result of women and demi-gods interbreeding. They lived at the same time as fire breathing dragons.”

I am an evangelical. I do not hold to this. I do not know evangelicals who hold to this. The only possibility would be Young-Earth creationists, and so again, Tarico takes a swipe at one brand of Christianity and thinks she has struck everyone in Christianity. Hardly.

“Evil spirits can take control of pigs.”

We eagerly await Tarico’s arguments with the evidence given by Keener of encounters involving demonic beings. In fact, for many anthropologists as he points out, to deny the strange events that often happen is akin to believing in a flat Earth. Sure, many anthropologists will think it’s not demonic, but there are quite bizarre happenings.

All Tarico has done is said “These obviously don’t exist and so obviously can’t affect pigs.” This is just atheistic presuppositionalism. It’s just fine if you assume that there are no demonic spirits and there is no God ultimately and that strange events cannot happen. Get rid of that belief and you might find you could actually be open to something. That doesn’t mean it’s true, but incredulity is not an argument and saying something is ridiculous does not make it so. A claim is not ridiculous just because it contradicts your worldview.

“A talking donkey scolded a prophet.”

Of course, the same applies here. Since I hold to theism, I find it possible indeed that God could enable a donkey to talk. Tarico needs to establish her atheism instead of just arguing from it and assuming that anything contrary to it is automatically nonsense.

“Believers can drink poison or get bit by snakes without being harmed.”

First off, I would like to point out that this is in Mark 16:9-20 which most scholars do not think is authentic to Mark. Okay. Let’s assume that it is the real deal. So what? Am I to think that if there is a God, which I have many reasons to believe there is, and that He raised Jesus from the dead, which I have many reasons to believe He did, that somehow blocking the effects of poison and snakes is beyond His reach?

“[A holy one] climbed a mountain and could see the whole earth from the mountain peak.”

Tarico is quite the literalist. I take this to a be a vision that was given to Jesus. Anyone in Judea would know that from a mountain in Judea you could not see all the world. Instead, going to the mountain was to put Jesus in a place of honor and then He is given a vision to show what great honor He could have.

But now, let’s go to a favorite one.

“[A supernatural being] cares tremendously what you do with your penis or vagina.”

We are very surprised to learn that Tarico doesn’t have a problem with rape, promiscuity, adultery, or pedophilia. I mean, those are all activities you do with your genitalia and it’s ridiculous to think God would care about those and if God doesn’t, why should anyone else? Tarico might be surprised it we have a whole field devoted to this. It’s called sexual ethics. A lot of non-Christians in fact think that you can’t just do anything you want sexually. A lot of people think sexual behavior might actually mean something.

Meanwhile on Tarico’s side, we have incredulity.

Incredulity is not an argument.

From there we move to the kinky and violent sides of religion. It’s amusing that after the humorous piece shared where God doesn’t care what you do with genitalia, we immediately have a complaint that the Bible is full of sex. Yes. It’s no big deal how you use your genitals but you should avoid the Bible because it has a lot of ways people use their genitals that they shouldn’t have! Naturally, Tarico goes to (A work of brilliant scholars of religion no doubt!) and not to more scholarly sources in the field. Tarico also thinks pointing to an event in 1676 somehow works against Jesus rising from the dead around 33 A.D. So do we have any mention of the violence of atheism under Stalin, Pol-Pot, and Mao? Nope. Not a bit. Funny thing that.

Tarico also points to supportive communities for people coming out of religion. Yes. And? Somehow people who disagree with religion and coming out talking to other people somehow counts as a way to show that religion is doomed? Curious if Tarico also would think she could find such people being free to publicly voice their opinion in openly Muslim countries….

The next fits in with this by looking at the lifestyles of those without God. Yes. What a shock. Religion is obviously doomed by thinking that people live just fine without a belief in God. Oh wait. Why should that be the case? That’s a common complaint in the Bible itself! Tarico seems to live in a world where she thinks that Christians and others believe that if you’re a Christian, life should be just awesome, and if you’re an unbeliever, you should be experiencing constant judgment and knowing it.

I don’t know Christians who think that way.

The last is interspiritual okayness which just boils down to people of different faiths interacting. Again, so what? We can interact and we can also disagree. This happens regularly. People with different political persuasions could both volunteer at a soup kitchen for instance. I can happily interact with people of different faiths.

Now if this isn’t the main issue, what is?

The main issue is that we live in an age of rampant narcissism where people think they know everything about a subject just by having an opinion and they don’t need to do any study whatsoever. Tell these people to read a scholarly book? Forget it. They’re more interested in just what they can find on Google and Wikipedia. Unfortunately, without the necessary background knowledge, one does not know how to verify claims. This happens on both sides.

Religion, like many other topics, is not a simple topic and requires great study. Too many atheists think it’s just automatically nonsense. To be fair, too many Christians see persecution where it isn’t and can just as easily spread rumors and untrue accounts on Facebook and other social media.

We live in a culture where students at a university will not want a speaker to come who disagrees with what they already believe. Look at what happened in Missouri recently with the complaining going on there. Our young people do not want to work for answers or anything else for that matter. They think everything should be delivered to their doorstep automatically. Of course, this isn’t across the board entirely, but too many fit into this viewpoint. They do not read. They just use the internet.

The problem is not the internet. The problem is the mindset of ignorance. Fundamentalists on both sides are increasing it, including people like Valerie Tarico.

In Christ,
Nick Peters